Tuesday, 28 Mar 2023

Hogwarts Legacy’s Inclusive Character Creator Is A Sad Sign Of Hypocrisy

TheGamer will not be covering Hogwarts Legacy in the form of a review, guides, or fun Easter Egg stories in the coming weeks, which was an easy decision to make given that JK Rowling continues to cement herself as the world’s most influential transphobe. Nobody is asking you to give up the wizarding world you grew up with, only to consider it in the context of our modern landscape. Harry Potter is now irrevocably linked with the transphobic exploits of its creator, and continuing to support it borders on complicity. A character creator does not fix that.

The arrival of Hogwarts Legacy brings with it some complicated questions for both fans of the series and journalists with a keen desire or professional responsibility to cover it. Harry Potter is massive, and I understand that, so it seems outlets and content creators are either forced to offer trite concessions and context to their coverage, or else be cowards who stay out of the political weeds altogether as they lazily distance art from the artist. The majority of coverage so far has avoided asking tough questions.

I have a much harder time understanding this, and how Rowling’s views have somehow become an afterthought from voices I’d expect better from. Who cares about being an ally when I can choose my house and hop aboard a broom to a Quidditch pitch in a game where the sport won’t even be implemented, right? Forget about the thinly-veiled bigotry smeared across the world building and characters, I can cast cool spells and fight giant spiders. They can forgive Rowling for her misgivings when Hogwarts Legacy has a character creator that attempts to express my own queerness, embodying a fluidity towards gender this franchise has no right to be proud of. The fact we’ve now come to praise Harry Potter for the progress its creator has spent years trying to stifle is awfully ironic, and damning that we’re embracing it.

Journalists and influencers started many of their previews with ample love for Hogwarts Legacy and its character creator. On a technical level it is incredibly impressive, and your gender is only ever indicated by whether you decide to enrol as either a Witch or a Wizard. Putting that aside, appearance and how exactly that might be viewed from a gendered view is all up to the player. Hair types, skin tones, facial options, and the smallest of details have been hailed as inclusive and a bold step forward, a bafflingly obtuse declaration given how Harry Potter and transphobia are now forever intertwined. It is performative activism, a move that appears to take a step forward in the medium yet beneath the surface makes no real effort to achieve anything. Yet we cheer for it regardless, which was the intention all along.

I’m happy for the queer and POC folks who have seen this character creator and realised the potential to piece together a representation of who they are. But Hogwarts Legacy should not receive a free pass by those desperate to find some way to justify their purchase despite Rowling’s bigotry.

There is nothing inclusive or sensitive about Hogwarts Legacy when you consider its full context, and to label it as such without bothering to interrogate why or how is borderline offensive. You can play your wizard game and enjoy it without taking into account the repercussions of its success, but to try to label it as a big milestone for queer and racial inclusivity when its origins are nothing of the sort baffles me. We saw a similar conversation around Cyberpunk 2077 with its transgender character creator, which basically boiled down to giving Lady V a penis and Man V a vagina while their voice, sex scenes, and overall standing in the world remained exactly the same. We praised it on the surface, but dare to dig even the slightest bit deeper, and it falls apart.

Fans have pointed out the hairstyle and skin options for Black characters especially, claiming Hogwarts Legacy understands them like no other video game. From an aesthetic perspective, it might. But like all of the things in Hogwarts Legacy, removing it from the bigger picture paints it in a very different light. This is a story which writes fairly rote examples of discrimination and race into its narrative and characters, Rowling making clear her own centrist views throughout.

Racism and other facets of bigotry is a factor in this universe, and you’re telling me a vision of Hogwarts centuries in the past wouldn’t raise any red flags when it comes to representation? I’d much prefer a story that dared to interrogate these themes instead of spruce up the inclusivity and have it be never questioned. You can do that in a new universe, but certainly not this one. Your character presenting as Black or queer isn’t going to impact the story at all, and it’s a hollow recognition in a series that had a character named Shacklebolt and has pro-slavery opinions.

Turns out I was a fool for expecting gamers not to view this as yet another blockbuster that can be consumed and cast aside like all the big hitters, and instead one that is more than its face value and worthy of contemplation. Does not being trans mean they can’t work out the prominent battle lines, or will a new toy always be more important than asking them for one second to care about a cause that actually matters? I’m guessing so, since with only weeks to go until its release the hype is more pronounced than ever and standing up to it doesn’t seem to matter. Representation and progress is more than a fancy character creator, and I’m not sure this medium will ever learn that unless it takes a good hard look at itself.

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